Friday, April 10, 2009

Busker Days: "Mariama", Yacou and Temomo

It's not the first time I've ventured out at lunch in search of some fresh music or scenery. It's not even the first time I've conducted that search at Powell Street BART Station. I heard it was a great place for street musicians and, anyway, it is one of my favorite areas of town. The main entrance to the station passes by an area dominated by street dancers with thumping tunes, street preachers, bums and sundry ne'er-do-wells, a row of chess tables, many with games in progress, a cable car turn-around rife with queued, eager tourists and a lone hot dog cart, only to proceed down past a large sub-surface public area. It always harkens back to visits to SF in my youth. Situated at the edge of both the tenderloin (to the west) and the financial district (to the east) this is one of my favorite parts of the city.

And last week that search was richly rewarded. Playing down in the west end of the station were two guys from Africa, one from Mali and one from Guinea. Yacouba Diarra, the young Malian and principal vocalist, was playing a ngoni (pronounced "goni"), a large gourd instrument with some eight strings and more like a kora than other descriptions and pictures of ngonis I've seen on the internet. (Another Malian musician, one of the foremost kora players, Toumani Diabate, can be seen playing a 21 string kora here.) The young man accompanying Yacou, named Temomo Mani, is on a bolon, a more percussive gourd instrument that nonetheless has four strings to pluck as well as some bells that jangle freely at the end of the neck. The ebullience and spontaneity with which they play this song, Mariama, made my lunchtime excursion one I will not forget. I hope you enjoy!

To any of you Bambara speaking listeners, translations are welcome!


  1. Very interesting. It may also be the first Flip-Side post without a guitar in it. And that is a welcome addition.

    This will make you laugh, but have you noticed the main/opening riff the dude with the Ngoni plays is very similar as the ending melody from The Music Man's "Pick a Little, Talk A Little -- Goodnight Ladies"? Seriously. I heard it the first time I listened to it and it took me all weekend to figure out what song I was thinking of. Check it out starting at 2:18 in this clip from the movie version.

    Last, it's a real pleasure to here their exuberance, joy and gratitude to the people listening and, presumably, donating.

  2. Very nice. The Busker recording project is really a cool idea. You've recorded some great stuff. I wonder if some kind of modern day Alan Lomax-type is doing it on a larger scale.

  3. Glad you like it!

    Seriously Flip-kid, that is one strange connection but have to agree there is more than a fleeting similarity between the pickalittle singers and the ngoni playing. Weird.

    Mazz, I have come across some busker recordings before - I think I once saw a CD for sale and I recently heard guy who got buskers around the world to join in on one recording of Stand By Me with great results. It is an interesting genre for obvious reasons - unsanctioned public venue, early talent, hats out for cash, generally disinterested public, lots of great music - but I like the simple fact that I can be walking along and just come across live music. Today Earl the gospel singer joined up with a guy named Dave on fiddle and vocals for some amazing impromptu collaboration down at Montgomery station. And I thought I was just heading home. And most people just walk right by.

    Yacou and Temomo will be playing on May 2 at the Red Poppy Art House in the Mission district. Its a very up close and personal venue, perfect for a performance by these two. Read more about them here:

    I'll see you there!

  4. Here's Yacou's myspace page: